Art April 30, 2010 By Rachel A Maggart


Mitsukuni Defies a Skeleton Specter, 1845-46.

Pulling from a bounty of colorful subjects, including giant carp, skeletons, samurai, cats, and tengu (or supernatural winged creatures), Kuniyoshi set his anthropomorphic, encrypted cast of characters against rich blue backdrops, their intricacies belying a totally hand-carved production process. In the context of his moralistic government, Kuniyoshi was a kind of populist rebel. Take the allegorical The Earth Spider Conjures Up Demons at the Mansion of Minamoto no Raiko triptych of 1843, or the Biographies of Wise Women and Virtuous Wives series, in which geishas are concealed under the pious veil of Japanese folklore. However, he has also been interpreted as a bastion of the “freedom loving ethos of 2010″. To better understand what keeps Kuniyoshi so intriguing and relevant, we turned to faithful protégé Hiroki Otsuka, visual artist and mangaka extraordinaire….

In your opinion, is Kuniyoshi’s subversive obstinacy what defines his appeal today?

Kuniyosh’s confident Edokko (literally “child of Edo”) attitude and his heartfelt devotion to his art pushed him beyond the limits. In a modern context, it is similar to the spirit of punk and hip-hop songs, which tell the truth using slang and humor to get an important message across. But despite being a charismatic figure, Kuniyoshi was not an artist consumed by fame. He stood alongside the general public and would casually take on smaller local jobs. He was above all else an entertainer. Considering the humor in his work and his abundant ideas, he must have been a hard worker and a very giving person.

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